Memorandum submitted by the Association
of Aerospace Universities
The following notes describe some of the arguments
for taking part in a reusable spaceplane development program within
the UK and expand on the points raised in the letter sent by the
Association of Aerospace Universities (AAU) to the committee dated
23 March 2000.
Civil aviation has plateaued technically since
the major changes brought about by the introduction of the jet
engine and pressurised airframes. Further improvements are now
incremental and mostly centre around reducing costs rather than
improving performance. As a consequence, emerging nations, particularly
in the Far East, are catching up technically and soon will be
in a position to compete with established Western aerospace industries.
Due to their much lower wages and ability to attract Western investment
finance, it is probable that eventually the civil aircraft market
will be lost in a similar manner to other, older, industries such
as ship building, cars, motorcycles, cameras and sound equipment.
Even military aviation appears to have an uncertain future with
probable further reductions in defence spending coupled with moves
towards Unmanned Air Vehicles.
To arrest the decline in the UK's aerospace
industry, new products are required which can be exported to the
rest of the world. Space represents such a business area that
could fulfil this requirement due to its massive long-term commercial
potential which could be unlocked by the emergence of a low cost
space transportation system.
Access to space is currently achieved by the
use of expendable rockets, with the exception of the US Space
Shuttle that is not available for commercial launches and is operated
for national prestige, scientific and military reasons. Expendable
launchers are adaptations of ballistic missile technology which
were developed in the 1950's and 60's to meet the urgent needs
of the space race. They are a totally inadequate method of accessing
space in the long term for the following reasons:
High launch costs (approximately $150 million)
Long lead times (three years typical)
High failure rate (2 to 4 per cent)
The consequences of these characteristics are:
Spacecraft have maximum reliability and capability
in order to avoid the expense and delay of a re-launch should
a failure occur.
Insurance typically 25 per cent of the spacecraft
cost due to the low launch reliability, and the inability to repair
spacecraft in orbit.
Long project cycle times.
Limited traffic volume into space due to cost
and lead times (approximately 100 per year). Worldwide expenditure
on space transport is 5 per cent of aviation yet it purchases
only 0.0002 per cent of the number of traffic movements.
To overcome the inadequacies and consequences
of the existing space transportation systems reusable vehicles
are required which operate on principles similar to aircraft.
UK COMPETE IN
USA AND OTHERS?
The Airbus and Ariane products are excellent
examples of Europe's ability to compete against the USA in the
aerospace marketplace. However, it is probably that a reusable
Space Transport System (STS) development that involved the UK
would include the USA for political as well as commercial reasons.
The USA is not necessarily so far ahead technically
that the UK is unable to compete against them. Thus the emergence
of the HOTOL program in the UK in the early 80's initiated the
current wave of interest in reusable launchers, which continues
to this day. The USA responded with their X30 NASP project, which
pursued a different, and far more technically demanding, approach
than HOTOL, leading eventually to the spending of about $3,000
million on the project without any definitive progress nor end
product. By contrast about £10 million was spent on the HOTOL
project before it was discontinued, due to lack of further financial
support. However, SKYLON is the only spaceplane project to date
in which its promoters were sufficiently confident in its viability
to published detailed drawings and performance data. The Americans
have recently demonstrated their failings in this area again by
spending approximately $1,000 million on the X33 SSTO rocket vehicle,
which has fallen far short of its technical objectives and failed
to become a step towards the development of a reusable STS. It
should be emphasised that the technical shortcomings of both the
American projects had been identified in the UK before they started
and their eventual demise predicted.
BENEFITS OF THE SKYLON PROJECT TO THE UK
The SKYLON spaceplane was conceived from the
outset as a commercial project whereby its development and production
costs was recovered and profits achieved for manufacturers, financiers
and operators. Business plans have been produced demonstrating
its commercial viability.
Ironically, due to SKYLON's attractive ground
handling and operational characteristics, interest has been expressed
within the USA in developing a military variant of the vehicle.
In both cases, the objective is to reduce the
cost of access to space by an estimated factor of seven to 20,
provide a transport system with greatly reduced lead times for
a projected launch (days rather than years) and provide generalised
payload handling for most payloads through containerisation.
Because of reduced demands on spacecraft reliability
when launched by SKYLON, the costs of spacecraft can also be reduced
by an estimated factor of 2.5 to 4.5 when designed in accordance
with consideration of redundancy and reliability that takes account
of the reduced launch costs and re-launch lead time.
Reduced transport and spacecraft costs translate
into reduced costs of the services that the spacecraft facilitate
(both military and civil) and of which the UK is the world's second
largest commercial user, but not a significant supplier.
Foreign nations such as the USA and Japan, as
well as collectives such as Europe and the CIS, through nationally
funded work, still strive to design a spaceplane with SKYLON's
characteristics. These nations are addressing issues which have
been submitted to the UK Government already solved for several
The benefits to the UK of taking a leading role
in the development of SKYLON are therefore believed to be clear
cut, the main ones being re-stated below.
2. SPECIFIC BENEFITS
2.1 Direct Sales
SKYLON is designed for 200 aircraft-like operations
from runway-based facilities. A preliminary market survey has
shown the potential for a minimum of 45 vehicle sales to the civilian
and military communities in Asia, Australia, Europe, North and
South America. For the business case, 30 sales have been assumed;
however the overall economics of the project are not sensitive
to this figure. In January 1997 prices the following costs were
Total development cost£5,493 million
Total production cost (30 units)£4,080
million (independently confirmed)
(These figures include company profits)
It is intended to sell the vehicles for £418
million each at 1997 prices, recovering a total of £12,540
million. The interest recovered on the development finance is
therefore £2,967 million, representing a 54 per cent return
on development investment.
An interested mixture of government and private
sources could provide the necessary finance, the government component,
like that from the private sector component, being repayable with
Interaction with the USA has shown that, in
addition to the commercial opportunity, there is a military role,
which could be incorporated into the economics of the project
for the mutual benefit of both military and civil operators.
The SKYLON project, based on the above data,
will provide approximately 445,000 man-years of high quality employment.
The proportion of this within the UK will depend upon the degree
of UK involvement.
This employment will be mainly within the aerospace
industry, which will halt its current decline or even recover
it. The aerospace industry is one of the UK's largest exporters
of high technology equipment, and is a prime mover in the economy,
with a major impact on secondary industries such as information
technology, construction and transport.
2.3 Spacecraft Costs
Launch costs of SKYLON include launch site leasing,
range control and safety, maintenance, insurance, propellants
and repayment of the vehicle purchase. This is on average $22.4
million during the first 10 years following introduction, falling
to $6.7 million thereafter. These values are between 1/7th to
1/20th of the current costs of launchers and their subsidies.
From consideration of the effect of launcher
characteristics on the designed optimum spacecraft reliability,
it has been found that spacecraft cost is roughly proportional
to (launch cost) 0.5. Thus, not only is the launch cost reduced
dramatically with SKYLON, but the satellite costs also. This will
greatly reduce the cost of space services, particularly Earth
observation, in which the UK has a large, and currently unprofitable,
2.4 National Security
It is in our national interest to prevent the
US from recapturing control of the launcher market. On page 41
of the UK Space Policy Forward Plan it states: "US investment
in future reusable launch technologies and vehicles (X-33) could
leap frog the launch businesses in Europe, Japan and China, leading
to longer term concerns (2005 onwards) about access to the most
competitive launch services for European commercial and military
The world-wide commercial operation of SKYLON
would end this threat for ever. On the other hand, if SKYLON were
developed jointly with the US as a military spaceplane, the UK
would have the opportunity to purchase vehicles and exercise control
over its diversification for commercial use.
2.5 Economic Impact
The growth in space activity resulting from
the introduction of SKYLON operations will create new high technology
industrial demands. Both Boeing and Aerospace Corp have expressed
their view publicly that the growth of business in space will
be greater than in any other aerospace field. Historical precedent
in other transportation fields suggests that those who initiate
this move will be its first major beneficiaries.
This new area of economic activity will remain
a growth area for many decades creating a demand for high product
value equipment, a stimulus of which UK industry and the national
economy is in need.
Finally, there are "intangible" but,
nonetheless, important benefits in national prestige, the stimulation
of innovation and inspiration of the next generation. While these
issues do not in their own right justify the SKYLON development,
they are real and should not be dismissed.
Technology development needs a "focus"
which a large project like SKYLON can provide in which problems
that need solving are certain to be found. University research
can then be targeted to investigate solutions to those problems
in a co-ordinated manner with a practical end objective in mind.
This process simultaneously develops technologies, many of which
may have applications in other fields (spin-off) and also provides
training and inspiration for the next generation of engineers.
If the UK abdicates from high profile glamorous projects such
as SKYLON, then young engineers are likely to drift abroad attracted
by exciting projects elsewhere (often the USA) in order to apply
their training creatively and thereby receive intellectual satisfaction.
This "brain-drain" directly benefits the host countries
by assisting their economic development but, conversely, represents
a serious blow to the UK economy which loses talented people having
previously paid for their education.
If the UK fails to rise to the challenge of
the next generation of aerospace technologies, it puts its aerospace
industries at great risk since, not only is the developing world
catching up, but also the development of a reusable STS elsewhere
will no doubt result in technical spin-off which will benefit
their aviation industry to the detriment of ours. For the UK to
exist as a "high wage-high skill" economy we have to
be "living on the edge" of technology development since,
in the long term, the production of technically mature products
are taken over by the developing low wage economies.
The AAU recognises that the UK has, in the past,
failed to exploit many of its best ideas. Hopefully the present
enlightened Government will support this UK industry initiative
and, SKYLON will not be allowed to join the long list of lost
14 June 2000